Posts Tagged ‘Kolkata’

God did not create them; he created only Adam and Eve.

The are neither. They are derelicts, social outcasts, feared, despised and ridiculed by men and women alike. Their coarse voices, their filthy language and obscene gestures embarrass the ‘normal’ and the ‘civilized’, who will never know what is it to be neither… or both.

The pain in written in their lewd hostility. If nothing else, their unabashed strip-tease is sure to make people shrink away. Yet, at the core of that body, which is neither male nor female but an ungainly mix of both, lies a soft human heart. Eunuchs (or transgenders) eat, sleep, drink, pray, bleed and shed tears just as anyone else.  And they are not considered humans among humans.

Harun Masi (We shall refer to her as ‘she’. She prefers it this way) is the leader of more than 500 eunuchs dwelling in slums scattered all around Chetla in South Kolkata — a place notoriously demarcated as Hijra More. She is over 70 years, nearly six-feet tall, fair, and has a face which is nearly devoid of any wrinkles. Her voice is expectedly male and her long hair, jet black. “I won’t lie, Ma (calling me affectionately), I dye my hair.”

But that was long after the battle was won; long after the stony resistance to talking had melted and she had agreed to talk. At first she wouldn’t yield.

She sent out a messenger saying she wans’t at home; then she had the messenger unleash a volley of obscenities to repulse us. “Can you give us back our vagina?” the messenger challenged, clapping her hands in that manner typical of eunuchs. “Can you? If you can’t, go away!”

But, on seeing our insistence, Harun Masi, first knit her brows and listened to the messenger’s ineffective story. (I had by then managed to sneak inside the lioness’s den.) She then pushed off the only cover on her bare breasts and ignoring me completely, marched towards the road, where photographer, renowned Aloke Mitra (http://www.alokemitra.com/), had come on my insistence. Once she emerged through the flimsy curtains, thankfully, she discreetly pulled the covers back.

“What do you want, babus?”

“We want to talk to you,” I rushed out to save an aged Mr Mitra.

“There’s nothing   to talk about. Please go away.”

“About the government recently granting you voting rights…”

“We already have voting rights. Yes, we vote. We even get voting papers. Ask anybody. There’s nothing to say.”

“Please, can’t we sit inside?”

“No. You can say whatever you want in front of everyone. They are all my sons,” she said, pointing to a thick crowd of people  who had, needless to say, had dropped all work and rushed in to watch this live entertainment or reality show.

“Please…”

Harun Masi is a Hindu by religion. She was brought over to Calcutta from Assam by her Guruma when she was an infant. ” I do not remember anything about my parents,” she recollected, crouched on her doorstep, after she finally relented to our pleadings.

“My parents have died and I have a sister who lives in Assam.” None of them, expectantly, has ever tried to contact her after she was taken away. “Guruma was my mother and my father,” she says pensively. And now that her Guruma was dead, she rules over her kingdom of over 500 eunuchs.

Earlier, it was the dai-s and dasi-s who used to inform them about the birth of a baby in the neighborhood. Today matters are more organised. “The corporation and hospital staff themselves come over to inform us,” says Harun.

Their approach to each family is warm — with the team singing and dancing and blessing the newborn. Matters take a turn once the household refuses to pay or negotiate with them. The demands are often very high. Few want to spend that kind of money and the eunuchs often turn violent and gather around the house to treat the locality to an ugly striptease.

“What may be petty to them, is our bread,” Harun explains. “We need to survive till we die. And this manner of granting blessings to a baby and receiving bakshish is the only way we can earn money.” It is noteworthy to say that even today eunuchs are often not included into the actual society and not given jobs or education.

Not one baby can be born born a eunuch without being taken away by elder eunuchs. “It is our right to take away the eunuch babies. We need to increase our clan,” says Harun.

Of the 5.5 lakh eunuchs in India today (1994), two-thirds have been claimed to be castrated males. In various reports it has been claimed that to increase their clan they kidnap young good-looking male babies and castrate them in a rather crude manner. Many die in the process. A study revealed that in India during the years 1990 to 1992 only 213 infants were naturally born eunuchs.

“Very few are born eunuchs,” confirms gynecologist Dr J.K. Basu. “In some cases infants develop ambiguous sex at birth. A girl, for example, may have male organs. But such cases are rare.”

Harun Masi, predictably, denies castrating males. “How can a baby survive after being castrated like that? And even if he does, how can she develop female hormones?”

To make this a noteworthy point, I must admit that when Harun Masi had taken off the only cover on her bare body earlier, I did get a glimpse of her not-so-well formed breasts.

Says Dr Basu,” It is possible for a male to develop feminine ‘characteristics’ if castrated at an age before puberty, since he develops no male secondary organs. However, there is no possibility of a male growing female organs.”

The eunuchs consider themselves descendants of  Shikhandi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shikhandi)  in Mahabharata and they worship God Krishna.

The death of an eunuch too has several stories attached to it. One says that they are buried deep in a ditch in standing position with lots of salt on their heads. Another story says the eunuchs are buried at the dead of night under the same bed they died in the same position with lots of salt around them. This is in hope for a normal life in next birth.

Harun Masi, however, refutes all such stories. “God!” she exclaims! “After suffering through the entire life, the least a eunuch deserves is not to be buried in such a crude manner. No, Ma,  we bury the Muslims and Christians and cremate the Hindus, just like anybody else.”

When I asked Harun Masi what is her aspiration and what’s her opinion about the government granting them voting rights finally, she said briefly,”I want to be a mother.”

Harunmasi strikes a typical pose.

My full-page write-up that appeared in Telegraph, India, 31 July 1994. Photo by ace photographer, Aloke Mitra.

harunmasi20002

Kaberi Dutta Chatterjee

(This story appeared in The Telegraph as a full page ‘LOOK’ story, dated July 31, 1994, right after the government of India stated that Eunuchs are humans enough to be able to vote and formally granted them voting rights. Not much has changed over the past 16 years. They still hoard in Chetla and other places and still barge onto people’s premises to demand money by obscene language and vulgar dances. I don’t think much will change over the next 200 years. I had to edit this 1200 word story to fit the blog.)

PS: Things changed after 20 years of this write-up appearing in The Telegraph.  Supreme Court in India just granted transgenders the right as a third gender on April 15, 2014, issuing the landmark verdict recognizing transgender rights as human rights, saying people can identify themselves as a third gender on official documents.

cellphone
I’m glad someone (and someone HUGE, and I’m flattered) who thinks like me. (Link below)
I don’t still use a cellphone. When I go to India, where there are almost no landlines, then I just have to carry one, but I keep it silent and away from me most of the times.
But my son and me, sitting on this very lonely part of the planet, (Canada) believe in staying away from the internet (which is still not a recognized word in the dictionary… see there is a red line under it) and cellphones for most part of our time. I like to watch stale TV series, watch an old movie, or read a book, do yoga, meditate, cook, redesign my home, sometimes just stand in the balcony and watch the life lolling by, watch the sunset, as if that’s the last day I’d be living on earth.
And I’d like to remind you I am not a very social person, neither is my son. We cannot chatter on the phone for hours, but I do focus on relationship building when I see a potential.
Why am I writing on first person basis, and talking about myself? Firstly I believe I am talking on behalf of a lot of people who think like me, but may not be able to be proud of their thoughts or be able to express it like the way they want. Secondly, it’s an audacity to write solely about oneself, and I like to have audacity. And thirdly, most importantly, it’s my blog.
I agree wholeheartedly with Werner Herzog in the interview below in the cellphone issue. And I also think that human beings will resist being wholly usurped by technology, on their own. They will build their own resistance when they’ll feel enslaved.
Hence, Elon Musk’s idea of colonizing Mars is something I don’t agree with. Colonize your own home first, there is still ample opportunity without disturbing the environment.
I think the idea of using technology to making our work easier and safer is greatly appreciated. (I do own a household robot to do my floors, for instance and I’d love to own self-driving car, since I don’t like driving and would like a technology chaffuer), but I greatly shun the use of cell phones when you have other means of communicating. It’s like technology is enslaving you slowly and you don’t realize it. It’s putting chains on your hands and you cannot even go to the bathroom without carrying it. I don’t own a cellphone, because I don’t want to be available all the time for the world.
“Where are you?” is the first question anyone asks you whenever they call. “Where were you?” if you don’t answer their cellphone. It’s not a concern in their voice. It’s their egos reprimanding you for not taking their calls. Telling you that they are important and you should take their calls the moment you see their names flashing.
Moreover, relationships make or break with cellphones. How long you’ve taken to take your friends’ call decides how strong the relationship is or isn’t and so on.
And I dislike what they offer you in the name of a cellphone: information you can do without, news that only depresses you and you can do nothing about, mundane gossip around the world, constant beeps…disturbing my chain of thoughts. I mean why? What have I done to deserve this? I have my own work. Writing thoughts like these, for example. Cooking. Educating myself. Reading all those books that I have to. Watching all those grand movies I intend to. That I want to personally review in my mind, or that which will help me re-establish my opinion about life in general. I look forward to thoughts which have not been thought.
Thinking. Relationship building. Focusing on my finance and future. Planning a life for my family after my death. All this takes time. How can you have any more time for such mundane stuff after finishing all these chores?
Technology cannot be all consuming and break my thought bubble all the time. I am not committed to be available to my family members all the time. Because I have to live with myself, first and last of all.
I would definitely like to use the internet. But at my leisure. When I have free time. To recharge my knowledge cell. Read up something new, like the one I shared below. To write and share my ideas. To share thoughts. To build my entrepreneurship ideas. Since it’s man who build technology to make things easier for him, I would like to use it, not the other way around.

I once got butted by a bull

Posted: August 25, 2016 in Laughing at life
Tags: , ,

I was once butted by a bull.

This is not funny. It hurt a lot. I fell down flat on the road while clutching onto my stomach. My watch broke and my belly muscles hurt for days.

I’ll give you more details. I was returning home from office and walking down the footpath (sidewalk) of my Calcutta home when I saw my childhood, school friend, Papiya on the other side of the street. Excited on seeing her after years, I called out to her, “Papiya!! Papiya!!” She didn’t hear and was walking away. Loyalty and friendship overflowing from my intestines, I stepped off the curb to wave to her and catch her attention. This is when I came in the path of a bull strolling down the road. You know that in India, particularly Calcutta, a strolling bull down a busy street is a common sight.

However, the animal I bumped into wasn’t pleased at all that a human ran into him (her?) without even acknowledging and respecting its great size. Instead of leaping off from the path of a leisurely bull, that normally pedestrians do, I actually ran into its horns.

He was so furious he pulled back and butted his horns into my stomach and I fell on my back on the footpath. Pedestrians rushed to my side. “What lady? Couldn’t you see a bull?” “Did the bull gore you?” “Do you need a taxi?” They helped me get off the road. I was more shocked than bruised and noticed that my watch had cracked.

Papiya, meanwhile, had vanished. I have never seen Papiya ever in my life again. Till date she doesn’t know what drama went on behind her when one loyal friend tried to call out to her years ago.

(This is a true life story and I have millions of such stories to tell if you want to read them. I am a cartoon and no one knows this better than my friends and family. I can relate many such horror tales only if only you give me the permission.)

Samarth Malik received the letter late evening. He was perplexed. The letter read, “From Mrs S. Misra, Konnagar, Hoogly, West Bengal.’’

Mrs. S. Misra? Who could it be? He tore open the letter. It read:

“Dear Mr Malik,

My late husband, Saurabh Misra was your friend. He died 12 years back. He has left a portion of his will in your name. I had been searching for your address all these years and have found it only recently. Kindly acknowledge receipt of this letter and let me know how soon can you come and accept your gift.

With sincere regards,

Mrs. Sabari Misra.’’

Samarth stood surprised for a long time. Saurabh Misra? Saurabh? In his last 41 years of his life he couldn’t recollect having met anybody by that name. A friend? He sat down on his armchair and began recollecting his college days. Saurabh… Saurabh… Who could it be who would leave a portion of his will in his name? He couldn’t remember.

He tried to remember his Naxalite days. Those days of fire — which he wanted to wipe off from his memory. There were no particular reasons for that. Only that his efforts had proved fruitless. Why only him, the entire movement had proved futile and the best of his mates were killed by the then ruling government.

He survived. There were reasons for that he didn’t want to remember.

Saurabh Misra…? Was he someone he associated during his Naxalite days? Or was he a colleague in his office?

He had emerged after his Naxalite days as a manager of an upcoming private organization. A well-settled organization, which gave him the launching pad for his soaring career in a multinational organization, of which he is a director now. He had built a plush home in the better parts of the city and with his wife and only daughter, had a chalked out a life that he was glad he had bargained for. He prided himself for taking the right decision at the right time.

Saurabh… a colleague? But a portion of will in his name? Strange! Or is he a distant cousin? No. He read the letter again. The lady mentioned that he was a friend.

Samarth decided to investigate the next day. His curiosity took the better of him and he was determined to find out what was this all about. He had been an active Naxalite once and had the grit of a leader. His name was still in the police books and if it were not for the police, his existence would have long been wiped off.

He had been saved at the nick of time. The police had opened fire when they had asked 17 of them to “Run! Run for your lives!!’’ on an open field. They had been promised freedom and were freed from the gloomy cells after a month of gruesome torture. His wrist was broken and his toenails were pulled off. His mates were in no better conditions. All of a sudden one day the Chief came and smiled at them, offering them freedom, at dawn. Thirty of them bundled in one cell; they looked at each other in disbelief.

The dawn came and 17 of them were pushed inside a van, and were driven off. The van reached an open field and they were asked to step down. And then the officer shouted, “Run! Now run for your lives while I count 10!’’

They ran! Samarth ran till his breath began to burst out from his lungs. He didn’t hear when the officer said “Ten!’’ and the three armed guards started firing. He saw his mates falling on the ground, one by one. And then something, a burning hot sensation entered his calf muscle and he fell. He staggered to get up, only falling back with the impact. Then suddenly an idea struck in his mind. He decided to stay motionless on the ground. He closed his eyes and bore the pain. The firing continued for another few seconds until there were no more running figures around. He waited breathlessly for the van to start its engine and drive off. A minute passed by and then two. He opened his eyes slightly to see the van and saw a pair of boots instead in front of his face. He instinctively looked up and saw the officer standing over him with a smiling face…

Konnagar was only a 20 minutes train ride from Calcutta. He reached the small, but busy town at 10:30 in the morning. He took a rickshaw and after several mistaken turns and bends, finally found the residence of Saurabh Misra.My husban'ds last gift

It was a small, one-storied yellow house. A short gate let to a wrought-iron enclosed balcony. He lifted the latch of the wrought-iron gate and clunked on it twice. And then again.

“Who is it?’’ A woman’s eyes peeped from above one of the springs of neat curtains that hung on the windows.

“I am… er… Samarth Mullick.’’

The woman’s eyes looked stoned for a second and then lit up with a smile.

“Oh yes, just a minute.’’

He heard the latch of the door being pulled down. And then he saw the woman come out.

She could barely be in her early 30s and her devastating beauty glowed from her white attire, while she was devoid of any external aid. A touch of helplessness in her eyes struck a node in Samarth’s heart and he wanted to suddenly be the benefactor of an unknown friend’s so lovely a widowed wife.

She smiled. And cupid worked ferociously in Samarth’s heart.

“Please come in. I have been waiting for you for days.’’ Her last words wrenched out from her heart and helpless eyes. Samarth thought about his dried-up wife.

“I am sorry,’’ he said. “I received your letter only yesterday.’’

“Oh! I posted it quite some time back,’’ she led him into the room.

The drawing room was neatly arranged. With frilled lacy covers on cabinets, supercilious sofas, cane stools and standing lamps, the room swanked in contrast to the woman’s vulnerable appearance. The fact that light had blinked out of the widow’s life ceased to walk in through the door into her interiors. She seemed a happy person inside; her garb of sanctity quietly camouflaging her bubbly youth. She was, as if, waiting for hope to re-enter her foyer.

Samarth sat down on one of the sofas.

“I am Sabari. That’s my husband.’’ She pointed with her eyes at a photograph just behind him.

He jerked his head around. And then he recognized him!

“Oh!’’ He was stunned. Too stunned to speak.

“Care for some juice?’’ She asked.

“Yes… okay…’’ he stuttered. “I wouldn’t mind.’’

“Just a minute,’’ she walked off inside.

Samarth looked at the photograph again. He was not mistaken. It was him! But then his name was… yes! Souvik… Souvik Sarkar.

The woman returned with a glass tumbler filled with an enticing chilled green juice. The tumbler was placed on a tray and covered with a lacy cover. He felt special.

“Please take this,’’ she said, “It’s made of fresh mangoes from my garden.’’

“Oh, thanks!’’ He raised the glass to drink the liquid in one gulp.

“Slowly,’’ she crooned and ended with a smile. “Drink it slowly. Or else you won’t enjoy the taste.’’

“Okay,’’ Samarth smiled. Was anybody else around in this house…?

He took one sip and kept the tumbler on the center table. Then he leant back and crossed his legs. “I don’t understand…’’ He tried to begin.

Suddenly Sabari’s expression changed to being somber. “My husband died in police firing. He was in the Naxalite movement.’’

Samarth nodded sadly, carefully heaving out a sigh of relief in small gasps. She went on.

“We were married for only three months. I was carrying his baby…’’

“Oh!’’ He bent forward and took a sip.

She looked out of the window sadly. “We were in love… we had just met in college. He didn’t want to marry me because he was into this movement.’’ Her eyes brimmed with tears.

Samarth shifted his legs nervously and took the tumbler in his hands. He was now trying to finish the liquid.

“…But I forced him. He had no parents and lived with his widowed aunty in this house.’’ She stopped and wiped her eyes with her sari.

“His aunty died a year back… I am all alone…’’ It was an inviting whisper and all Samarth could do was to shift in the sofa nervously. He felt restless.

“You…’’ he cleared his throat. “Your parents?’’

She smiled and looked at him. “They have disowned me ever since I married Saurabh. I will never go back to them.’’

“And…’’ he hesitated. “Your baby?’’

“Was born dead.’’ She looked up… and her eyes were made of stone.

He felt scared. He sipped on the liquid fast. His head was reeling. He was beginning to feel uncomfortable. He now wanted to get out of this house fast.

She went on. “You know how my husband died? He was fired, from behind his back. The police tipped one of his mates — this guy from his college. You know he was in the same movement.’’

“Oh…’’ He began feeling nauseated. He gulped down the liquid and finished it.

“Yes. The police tipped this friend of his with a grand job if he could kill him.’’

Samarth’s head started swaying!

She looked out of the window and tears started rolling down her eyes. “They were walking down this lane and my husband was discussing the next day’s plan with him. And then he fired him from behind, point blank.’’ She began weeping openly.

Samarth held the sofa handle and tried to get up. “I must go.’’ His head was swaying and his entire self was burning.

“Don’t go,’’ she pleaded in the same naïve voice. And then came forward and held his head. She began combing his hair with her fingers. “Relax, Samarth, relax… I need you…’’ She held his head on her flat stomach.

Samarth rested his head on her stomach and felt his orgasm reach the peak. He wanted to pull her down on the sofa and make ferocious love to her. He tried to lift his hands but couldn’t.

He looked up at her and she appeared blurred. “I don’t feel well.’’

She knelt down and began caressing his face, “Obviously you don’t. I know you are my husband’s killer. I have been waiting for you all my life. I have kept myself and this house beautiful ever since I learned that you were alive and so well…’’

His head staggered to fall. “I want to go home…’’ he could somehow blurt out. His whole self was burning.

“How can you go home, sweetheart?’’ She held up his wobbly head, holding his face. “I have mixed a deadly poison in your sherbet. You’ll be dead in a few minutes.’’

She held his limp head in her hands and then threw it with vengeance onto the sofa. His whole self fell, twitching slightly near his limbs — a white frothy liquid flowing out from his lips.

She stood up, “My husband’s last gift to you, sweetheart! Enjoy!’’

(This story is inspired from a short story I read when I was very young, can’t remember the source.)

(A short story from my third book and a compilation of original short stories, Whiff of Tempest)

(Durga Puja and Mahalaya play a great part in building up the emotions in Neil Must Die. For all those who feel Durga Puja close to their hearts may want to read this extract)

durga

Book 5

CHAPTER 4

The Homecoming, MahaSaptami, October 16 1996

The litanies of the Mahalaya were tearing through the speakers throughout Rajdhani Express, pouring generously on the passengers, filling them up to the brim. They were all coming home. As Goddess Durga had already come into the lives and hearts of Bengal, so were they. Returning into the hearts of their own families. From various corners of the globe the Bengalis were returning home.

It was Saptami, the first day of the Durga pujas, and Neil was returning home. For the first time in two years. For the first time after Tuli’s death.

The Mahalaya was piercing through his lungs. His heart. His whole existence. Why did they have to sell the album in cassettes? It was as though the entire world had conspired against him to let him know something. That he couldn’t escape. To let him know that he was coming home, and that was the truth.

He felt uneasy. And was tempted to walk up to the train attendant and ask him to switch off the music. But he couldn’t trust himself. He didn’t know whether he would hit the man if the attendant refused. He shivered a little. He didn’t know whether that was from the excess air-conditioning or anything else. His mind was going numb.

He closed his eyes. He wished he could close his ears. He decided to bear the painful music. He decided to think about Cathy.

Her eyes were brimming with tears when he kissed her, bidding her goodbye at the airport. She held his hand and said, “I love you.” He wished he could say the same. He simply nodded.

She said, “Just give me a ring. And I’ll arrange for everything. I’m waiting for your call…” she trailed off. Her voice had cracked.

Neil felt sad for her. Sad that she was feeling so sad. He held her and hugged her close. He knew all he had to say was, “I’m coming,” at that moment. But he felt tongue-tied. He simply held her. He wanted to see her happy. Cathy looked up and searched his eyes, as if trying to fathom his confusion. He smiled to hide them. But she knew. She smiled back and held his hand tight, “Don’t rush things,” she said. “I’ll be a friend always.”

And then she turned and left. She turned back before entering the security check and waved at him, smiling. Neil too waved back. And smiled. He felt two emotions. A lump in his throat and a sense of relief. He never knew why.

He got up from the seat and walked out for a smoke. He wanted to think of Cathy and not of the place he was going to. He should have been on a plane to Stockholm and not on a train to Calcutta. He pushed the swing door of the compartment, stepped outside and lit a smoke. He had to go home someday or the other. He had to return and face his past. Good. He could think better. He opened the door of the train. Dusk sped by. Dim lights afar flashed erratically indicating that electricity had reached those villages. Before that, of course, lay acres of barren land, aman paddy having just been harvested.

He looked at the sky. He felt a sense of claustrophobia. Previously the sky was always his source of freedom. Now it seemed, ever since Tuli was up there, he had no escape.

Neil took a puff. He asked himself for the umpteenth time. Why was he always escaping? Why couldn’t he anchor somewhere? Who was he? What was his identity? He was already 24 and had not started life yet. Oh yes. He’s a criminal. How could he forget that? Now with that track-record it will be difficult to get a job either. He wasn’t qualified enough. The only option he had was to go back and join Hassan. Join Juhi. Perhaps even marry her. That was the only way out. Or get a job through her. Then of course, he’d have to marry her. He felt uneasy. Sick. Claustrophobic. Felt as if someone was throttling him. He simply had to try for a visa. He had to go to Stockholm. That was his only option.

He threw the cigarette on the speeding tracks and went inside.  He looked at the happy faces. The happy families who were all going back home on holidays. They’d meet their relatives and all would be so happy. He sat down. When did he last feel happy? He didn’t remember. What was happiness? Was he searching for happiness, or searching for an escape from it?

He didn’t have an answer. His eyes stung with self-pity. He decided to sleep. He decided never to wake up…

(Available here in India)

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(In Canada)

Published on October 14, 2010, in Hindustan Times, Kolkata, India

What do I miss about Durga Puja? What do I miss about that undefined fragrance in the air? Or the stacks of bamboo poles strewn around every street corner, sending out a message that the magic is here?

What do I miss about the Pujas?

After spending 42 years in Kolkata during Durga Pujas, this is the first time I am not only out of Kolkata, I am out of Bengal, I am out of the country, I am 12,535 kilometers  away on the other side of the planet — in Canada, for good. Ever since I changed country of residence last year, I had dreaded the thought of spending a puja away from Kolkata. And now I am asked, what do I miss about pujas!

Where do I begin? From my days in frocks, when Pujas meant clay being brought in from the Ganges and heaped onto the ‘thakurdalan’ of my ancestral home? We would be running back from school to see how much had the construction of the goddess progressed. From strips of bamboo being tied to form the scaffolding, to chokkhudaan (painting the eyes), to 108 alighted lamps flickering on the Durga’s amber face on Asthami, to bhashaan (immersion) — when I stood leaning on a pillar and sobbed — what should I talk about?

In such a short column what should I speak about? Should I talk about our night-long rendezvous while in college and the overpowering aroma of phuchkas? Or about my first love, the momentum of which amplified during the ‘whole-night video shows’? Or how our eyes conversed during those four euphoric days?

Should I talk about how my son got his first colic pain due to the sounds of ‘dhaak’ or about how he spent the rest of his childhood jumping up awake in glee to same beats? Or should I talk about the moments of Mahalaya, the chants trickling in through my groggy sleep?

Ma Durga had been through my real and unreal. Through my childhood, my unsteady adolescence and my uneasy youth. She is a part of my beliefs and my atheism, my revolt and my acceptance, been a witness to my struggle and success. She has been my wings, when I flew into foreign lands alone with my son, with nothing but a stamped piece of paper… and no return tickets.

Here in Canada, no bamboo poles herald the ascent of the Devi. No lights adorn the streets.  I do not get that familiar smell anywhere. Durga Puja is held in its own ‘big’ way among the Bengali community.

Even though it’s a hot pot of melting cultures, many in Canada do not know anything about Durga Puja. Or even if they know, they know it to be one more festival from Asia.

I do not feel sad. That’s it! I do not feel sad. I am happy that Ma Durga will visit the hearts of Bengal and light up the land once again. I am happy my motherland will remain unchanged. I am happy that whenever I can, I can return to my soil and inhale the Puja air. Till then, I can always take a deep breath and smell that familiar lingering fragrance from inside my 43-year-old soul drenched in puja spirit.